Students will be treated to a once-in-a-lifetime sight midway through the first day of classes: a minute-and-a-half of darkness. For the first time since 1932, a total solar eclipse will be visible across the entire contiguous U.S.
The eclipse will occur when the sun, the moon and the Earth line up at around 1:20 p.m. During a total solar eclipse, the disk of the sun is fully obscured by the moon.
“Unless one is able to travel to a location where a solar eclipse is known to take place, there is a high chance of not being able to see a total solar eclipses in one’s own lifetime,” Marco Cavaglià, a professor in physics and astronomy department, said.
A thin band across the United States, starting south of Portland, Oregon, running through the Midwest down south through Tennessee, and ending in Charleston, South Carolina, will be able to see the total eclipse. Astronomy fans spending the day in Oxford will miss out on the eclipse’s totality, but can surely observe a rare positioning of the sun and moon.
“Although eclipses are not rare events, total solar eclipses visible from a given location on Earth are pretty rare, as they occur on average every 375 years,” Cavaglià said. “There is no better way to start the new academic year than with an exceptional astronomical event.”
The closest spot for students living in Oxford to catch the eclipse in totality is a few hours north in Nashville, Tennessee.
“If you are trying to drive up last minute, expect a huge traffic jam,” Tibor Torma, director of the Kennan Observatory, said.
While Oxford isn’t located in the 100 percent total-coverage band, the city will still experience more than 90 percent coverage of the sun, with a peak of 93 percent at 1:24 p.m. Cavaglià said though a total eclipse is especially spectacular, today’s partial one will create the interesting appearance that the moon has taken a bite out of the sun.
“The moon will be coming in slowly,” Torma said. “It will start chipping away at the sun starting around noon.”
For those Oxonians sticking in town, campus officials have planned two viewing parties for the partial eclipse. The J.D. Williams Library will set up a tent from 11:30 to 3 p.m. with pinhole projectors and eclipse glasses for students to observe the eclipse on the quadrangle by the Phi Mu fountain.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy will host its own viewing party outside Lewis Hall between the Lyceum and the library from noon to 3 p.m., complete with a solar projection device and telescopes.
“People think that eclipses are not very bright, but they are very wrong,” Torma said. “It is more dangerous to look in a partial eclipse than a normal sun. A partial eclipse is darker, which means the human pupil opens up and lets in more light, but the eclipsed part of the sun is just as bright as when it was full.”
While viewing the eclipses, it is important to take into account safety precautions to avoid eye damage. Experts also warn against taking photos with any sort of cameras, including smartphones, because it will cause damage to the device.